Here Comes the Sun
The province of Alberta will soon have a large-scale solar heating project (http://www.nrcan-rncan.gc.ca/media/newsreleases/2005/200520_e.htm), the first of its kind in North America. This project will apparently provide up to 90% of the heating costs of a community of about 52 homes and will serve as an example of just what can be done. The province will be chipping in over half a million dollars to create this community, with an additional 2 million dollars coming from the federal government and another 2.9 million dollars coming from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
In addition, numerous private companies and organizations are also on board, “including United Communities, Sterling Homes, ATCO Gas, the Town of Okotoks, Climate Change Central and EnerWorks.”
This is the type of action that the Kyoto Accord is supposed to promote, but the Federal Government has not yet provided any guidance to the provinces on how it is supposed to work. Fortunately, it seems that, at least in Alberta, things are starting to happen anyway.
One of the scary things about this system is that to provide heat to 52 homes, the heating plant itself has to be centralized somewhere. That means that should the system fail in the dead of winter, the entire community will likely have to find other places to stay until repairs are made. Or perhaps I’m being pessimistic. Maybe the planners have thought of this already and that’s why ATCO Gas is involved – providing a backup system to the individual houses.
The first steps are always the hardest. Congratulations to Alberta for making this one.
Here Comes the Competition?
In British Columbia, Premier Bob Campbell was pleased to announce (http://www2.news.gov.bc.ca/nrm_news_releases/2005MAE0025-000379.htm) the opening of Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. In the same announcement is the approval for a 12 million dollar Open Learning Centre to house British Columbia’s own “Open University and Open College.”
Like AU, this university will offer primarily undergraduate degrees and some master’s level degrees, as well as vocational and developmental programs.
Also like AU, this university will have a mandate “to focus on teaching excellence and to promote the open learning instruction that people throughout the province can access. The university will also undertake the research and scholarly activities that support its programs.”
The only thing that’s not entirely clear from the release is whether they will also be focusing on distance education, or on a branch-office model. Josh Keller, Director of Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations for Thompson Rivers University explains that they are indeed expecting distance education to become an increasing component of their course offerings. He also states, however, that he is expecting relations between AU and Thompson Rivers to be “more collaborative than competitive,” so I suppose that’s a sigh of relief for the administration in Athabasca University, which has a large number of students in B.C.
I tend to think that a little competition between the Universities couldn’t hurt. I’d certainly like to see AU start competing on things like providing better student services and lower costs.
There Goes Provincial Student Funding
In New Brunswick, the recently released (http://www.gnb.ca/cnb/news/fin/2005e0349fn.htm) budget is trying to focus a little more on post-secondary education, with budgeted increases between 3.0 and 4.6 percent over the next three years. While not exceptional, it’s certainly nice to see.
However, one very interesting idea that New Brunswick has come up with is integrating the provincial student loans with the federal student loan program, thus making it so that students only have one loan to deal with.
This is a great idea in many ways. As previously government-financed students who obtained loans during the changeover period when the governments took over loans administration from the banks, my wife and I had a total of six student loans outstanding when we terminated our funding. We would have had eight, but Alberta remission eliminated the two provincially held loans that were bank funded. When the government began taking the loans programs back from the banks, they promised students who were caught in the changeover that the various loans would be combined, but this did not occur. This is a hardship on graduating students in a number of ways not generally thought about.
First, more student loans means more loans and payments noted on a student’s credit report. This makes it harder for students to get additional credit. In addition, it increases the chances that an error will be made and payments being sent to the wrong place, or confusion between which institution is holding which loan. It also increases the chance that applications for assistance programs, such as interest relief, might fail to go to all of the loans holders, which can have a significant impact on a students’ credit rating.
The downside, of course, is that there is no federal remissions program. Hopefully the province will continue to help out the students with remissions paid to the federal government.
But still, it’s another step in the right direction.